Ho-ho-ho, movie fans.
2021 is bowing out, and hopefully so is my tenure as the residential TTM reviewer of Hollywood's intentional car crashes, also known as movie musicals. In the spirit of ending the year the same way it has been going, I thought it would be a good idea to send 2021 into the sunset – actually, scratch that – into the flaming ball of fire and explosive gases that is the sun – with the biggest car crash since Daniel Craig totaled his Aston Martin in Casino Royale.
Diana the Musical.
Coincidentally, it is Daniel Craig-led Macbeth that will fill out the vacated Longacre Theater by the aforementioned Diana the Musical.
What's that? Omicron setting Broadway on fire again?
Oh, that's cute.
Well, yes, Omicron has been causing many cancellations on the Great White Way, including postponed productions, and yeeting people out of their seats minutes before the curtain call. But Diana the Musical is perfectly capable of self-imploding even without the deadly virus, thank you very much.
If you're asking why I'm reviewing a Broadway musical that has just closed on December 19th after 33 performances, it's because Diana is not an isolated incident that nuked Broadway's reputation, left carnage in its wake, and then was swiftly taken care of by the liquidators, never to be seen or spoken of again.
No, they taped this monstrosity and put it on Netflix. That's why we're here today.
If your second question (I'm sure there will be many more throughout this review on your mind) is why we had to wait 25 years for Phantom to get a professional recording and get released, and the much-beloved shows like Wicked or Next to Normal, and many more are stored in the Gringott´s vault indefinitely … Yeah, I got nothing.
I actually don't know the real reason other than Diana was a vanity project looking to make a quick buck, scar the audiences, and then peace out while continuing to pay dividends until Netflix's short-circuited brain jump starts its sense of integrity and removes Diana from its catalog.
The “creative” team behind the pop-rock musical about the tragic life of the British princess are composer/lyricist David Bryan and book writer/lyricist Joe DiPietro.
No, you didn´t blackout and read the wrong name. David Bryan, the living-breathing embodiment of New Jersey and Bon Jovi's pianist, was handed a task to write music and lyrics for a musical about an aristocratic English girl who fell victim to the British press and selfishness of the royal family.
I'm sure it'll be fine, thought everyone on the producers´ team after smoking a reefer or two.
What was the real logic behind it? In the words of John Mulaney: Who's to say?
I can only tell you what it looks like to an outside-looking-in writer who knows a thing or two about creative and financial decision-making processes in the entertainment industry.
And it looks like someone subscribed to Disney+ last year, saw Hamilton, and said: Yeah, let's do that but fail completely.
The Driving Engine
Do you guys think that I still want to talk about it?
No. The answer is no. Hamilton is exhausting. Sometimes when I go to one of the seven thousand Starbucks shops on my block, I go in with an underlying fear that Hamilton will jump from behind the counter at me.
But every thirty years or so comes a piece of art that penetrates the culture so deeply, it affects all aspects of society one way or another. In 1961, it was Sondheim's West Side Story, in 1994 it was Larson's Rent, and in 2015 it was Miranda's Hamilton.
In the year of our Lord 2015, I was a sophomore in college, and I was going through one of the toughest semesters because of a little class called World Economy. And because the world economy, the system of a centralized financial institution, and accumulation of money through trading on Wall Street has been translated onto most of the world's governments from Alexander Hamilton's financial systems, as students of diplomacy, we had to learn the ropes of the American economy.
It was painful, to say the least.
Mostly because it was boring as hell. Two weeks before the final exam, when I was on the brink of insanity, a friend of mine who shall not be named, said: “Hey, why don't you listen to this Hamilton album thing on YouTube? It makes it so much easier to understand and learn what Hamilton was trying to do. And it's so much fun!”
Go listen to Hamilton, they said.
It would be fun, they said.
So, here we are. Seven years later and “this Hamilton thing” just won't go away. It's like Hydra, you think you have it defeated, and then it grows two more heads and blows the fiery breath of addiction on you.
What does it have to do with Diana being a bad musical? Well, most of the decisions in today's entertainment have something to do with Hamilton. No, that's not an exaggeration. Why do you think the BBC cast Jodie Turner-Smith in the role of Anne Boleyn? That wouldn't have happened before Hamilton changed the way producers think about color-blind casting. It is commendable, and I adore the fact that instead of physically accurate attributes, we now focus on the human experience when portraying real-life figures.
But it didn´t do s**t for Diana the Musical, though. Mostly because the writers applied the formula that cannot be replicated, an occurrence we see more and more with all the remakes and reboots of Home Alone, or Disney properties like Jumanji or Beauty and the Beast. And they always fall flat at best and are downright insulting at worst.
Diana the Musical doesn't suck just because the lyrics, music, and the book are atrocious. It sucks because the writers are trying to replicate the success of an anomaly that consumed pop culture due to a unique set of circumstances comprised of uncontrollable components. In other words, the zeitgeist chooses you, you do not choose the zeitgeist.
How Diana (Doesn't) Work
The reason I couldn't stop watching Diana, was because I couldn't figure out why it sends me into a blind rage. After all, it's just a bad show, that's not a reason to watch and re-watch the pro-shot on Netflix on loop. But after my fifth-time re-watching it, I finally got to the bottom of why it's not only a terrible show but an infuriating pile of self-indulging, self-congratulatory garbage. And the reason behind it is what I like to call the Veronica Lodge paradox.
We hate Riverdale. We make fun of it, we make memes, we make crack videos. But there is one character that is so frustrating, we cannot even laugh at her. The fundamental principle on which Veronica's character is built contradicts itself. You cannot be a residential spoiled rich kid and a stand-up for morals savior in one. And Diana the Musical Veronica Lodge-ed itself the moment they put the idea on paper. There are three stages all wacky projects keep in mind and ride a tidal wave of, connected with a fine line called camp.
Ridiculous – Camp – Stupid. Never have I seen a project that would somehow manage to be all three without committing to any of them. And that's because they never went into it with self-awareness, with the knowledge that yes, a rock musical about Princess Diana is a wacky premise. You can't copy Hamilton's equation of tragic historical figure+ modern music + love story equals success.
It just doesn't work, you're not going to wake up a generation Stephen Sondheim's West Side Story style and Jonathan Larson's RENT style when everyone had already been awakened to everything you're trying to say in what sounds like one overbearing, mediocre rock song.
Consumerism of Musicals
How did it use to work? Every Broadway musical gets a pro-shot recording, but they are rarely released, and the only institution with full access is the New York Public Library. However, since Broadway musicals are insanely expensive, and they seldom break even, much less make a profit, releasing a pro-shot on DVD would annihilate the ticket sales altogether.
But the game has changed. We have streaming services now, a much less expensive, much more comfortable alternative, and a win-win situation for both consumers of Broadway and the producers of those shows. The problem is that the flagship success they are modeling the strategy after, is again, Hamilton.
Dear Diana the Musical, releasing a pro-shot on a popular streaming service will not result in an even larger demand for your show and an astronomical boost to your already year-in-advance overbooked ticket sales. It will not acquire the insane 22 million streams during the first month of its release, and no one will pay you 75 million dollars to buy the pro-shot of your show. Not even Netflix.
You are missing a key ingredient – the organic hype for your production and the return on investment insurance by a five-year-long bank-making that Hamilton has.
Diana was filmed in an empty theater which amplified the already hollow feel of the show and then released on Netflix ahead of its Broadway previews. Not only does the performance feel like a fever dream Prince Charles probably has occasionally, but it has also been completely devoid of humanity. And if there is one thing we associate Princess Diana with, it's her humanity.
Who gets all the blame
There is a saying in Eastern European cultures that you can dress a monkey in silk robes but at the end of the day, it remains a monkey. An equivalent of that might be the “you can't polish a turd” sentiment. I liked the costume design, I liked the pacing, I liked the actors doing their best to act out a play with no substance and sing lines like “Serves me right for marrying a Scorpio.”
I facepalmed so many times that I gave myself a three-day migraine. You could have a visual spectacle, a genuinely talented cast, and breathtaking costumes, it could never substitute good writing. Point in case, season 8 of Game of Thrones had a bigger budget than some movies green-lit by Hollywood, it looked like a movie, and yet, the writing sunk the whole show. Imagine throwing a bad score on top of that, you would probably throw a toaster at your TV. Style over substance rarely resonates with audiences, if ever.
The Grand Finale
2021 was the year of musical hell for me. Tick, Tick… Boom! Emerged as the light at the end of the tunnel and gave me hope that the art of musical theater can be beautifully modified for film, but boy is that a tiny silver lining compared to the long string of burnt chorizos we had to endure from Hollywood this year.
I enjoyed reviewing every single piece despite their more than occasional mediocrity, because bringing people together through lively discussions about art whether it be on the negative or the positive note, is my life's purpose and my greatest joy. See you in 2022. Hopefully, without the Cats and the Dianas of entertainment.